Reminded by a reporter after the game that the Utes led from start to finish, senior forward Tyler Rawson smiled and replied, “That is true. It didn’t feel like it at times.”
Rawson’s response — smile included — summed up the Utes’ night as they renewed a longtime in-state rivalry with Utah State in the opening game of the Beehive Classic in Vivint Smart Home Arena on Saturday night in Salt Lake City.
The Utes led by more than 20 points in the first half and looked like they might blow out the Aggies, but at times they also looked like they were leaving the door open for the Aggies to potential steal a win. Ultimately, the Utes earned a 77-67 win in the first meeting between the teams since 2010.
“It’s hard to turn a 20-point lead into a 40-point lead in a game like this,” Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “But it’s all right in front of us, what happened. We got sloppy, started throwing the ball around. … Mature teams, winning teams realize that the next play is important regardless of score.”
Utes senior guard Justin Bibbins scored 11 of his 16 points in the second half and dished out seven assists, while Rawson scored 14 of his 16 points in the first half. Senior forward David Collette scored 13 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked two shots against his former team.
Collette, who scored nine first-half points on 4-of-5 shooting, downplayed any potential hard feelings from his contentious transfer from Utah State two years ago right before the season. A senior who served an LDS Church mission while at Utah State, Collette even joked that the fans probably don’t remember him because he’s so old that’s he’s approaching 40. Collette is actually 24.
“We came out with more fire than them, for sure,” Collette said. “I think a lot of that could have been me just trying to get my guys fired up because I feel like the last few games I’ve kind of been sitting back and not doing my part as a leader. I wanted to step up, go out of my comfort zone.”
Aggies sophomore guard Koby McEwen, last year’s Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year, played just 16 minutes before he fouled out. He did not score for the first time in his collegiate career, and he went 0 for 4 with four turnovers.
McEwen and Sam Merrill, a Bountiful High graduate, came into the night having averaged a combined 28.1 points per game.
Aggies junior forward Quinn Taylor, who celebrated his 24th birthday on Saturday, scored a career-high 22 points including 20 in the first half, while junior guard DeAngelo Isby added a season-high 24. Both came off the bench for USU.
Taylor and Isby, a junior college transfer, combined for 31 of the team’s 36 first-half points.
“I’ll tell you what, in the first half, Taylor and Isby saved our bacon,” Aggies coach Tim Duryea said. “Our starters had nothing going, no rhythm, no flow, got in foul trouble — everything you could think of. And Quin and D’Angelo stepped up and they were tremendous in the first half. They gave us a fighting chance to even be competitive in the second half.”
The Utes’ lead reached as many as 21 points in the first half, meanwhile McEwen and Merrill went scoreless — 0 of 7 with three turnovers — and McEwen committed three first-half fouls.
“[McEwen and Merrill] was the head of the snake,” Bibbins said. “We cut them off early and got out to a big lead.”
Taylor scored nine points in the final 2:44 as the Aggies cut the deficit to 11 points, 47-36, going into halftime. The Utes scored just two points in that same span
The Aggies cut the deficit to four points, 58-54, on a pair of Alex Dargenton free throws with 11:42 remaining in the second half, but Utes guard Sedrick Barefield answered with a 3-pointer and Bibbins drew McEwen’s fifth foul, made both free throws, and then knocked down a 3-pointer to put the Utes up 12. The Aggies didn’t get closer than five points the rest of the night.
• The Utes lead by as many as 21 in the first half, but hold on for a 10-point win over Utah State.
• Aggies star guard Koby McEwen doesn’t score for the first time in his collegiate career.
• Utes senior and former Aggie David Collette scores 13 points in his first game against his former team.